The Journey from Aerospace Writer to Creative Writer


big sur

by Madeline Sharples

I worked as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business for a total of twenty-eight years. I had a reputation for being a good writer so I got some of the plum jobs – working on newsletters, websites, award applications, and even ghostwriting letters for top managers, but the writing style for any of those tasks was nothing near creative.

However, I learned a lot about writing and revision while working on deadline-oriented, and super stressful proposals. We wrote a little, we edited, we reviewed, and then we revised. And we’d repeat that sequence many times throughout a typical three-month proposal effort. I also taught proposal teams how to write their text, emphasizing the importance of keeping their fingers moving until the writing is finished, then stepping away from their prose for a bit before editing it. I think that advice works for all kinds of writers. If you don’t have another person’s eyes to look at it and edit it for you, leave it be for a while, make yourself a hard copy, take out a red pen, and move to another location in your house. It will be like having a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work.

All that is practical advice. But the actual difference in writing to address technical requirements and writing a creative story or poem or essay is harder to address.

I think the main requirement – at least for me – is that I wanted to make the transition. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace industry. I got a positive response after one call and asked, “Do you ever hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to become a “real” writer.

And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: – a little less technical than my work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I could stand it no longer.

I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition. Here’s what I wrote: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” Later I learned that was okay. Once I discovered a private instructor in Los Angeles who taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.

Madeline Sharples1During her 30-year professional career, Madeline Sharples worked as a technical writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business and wrote grant proposals in the nonprofit arena. She started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer in the last few years. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, was released in a hardback edition in 2011 and released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things in 2012. 

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1,2, and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems appear online and in print magazines, several appear in the Story Circle Network True Words series. The 2016 Porter Gulch Review and the Yellow Chair Review’s 2016 ITWOW (In the Words of Womyn) anthology will publish two new poems this year.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly at the Naturally Savvy and Aging Bodies websites. She also posts at her blogs, Choices and is currently writing a novel. In addition, she produced a CD of her son’s music called Paul Sharples at the Piano, as a fundraiser to help erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. It was released on the fifthteenth anniversary of his death in September 2014.

Madeline studied journalism in high school, wrote for the high school newspaper, studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and received a B.A. degree in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

 

6 responses to “The Journey from Aerospace Writer to Creative Writer

  1. Story Circle helped me switch from a journalistic style of writing to something more personal, so I do understand your dilemma. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Pat, I’m glad you had a good experience during the switch. I look forward to reading your work. All best,
    Madeline

  3. So glad you made the transition, Madeline. I would otherwise not have crossed paths with you and that would have been my loss. Thank you for this story.

    • Dear Mary Jo, thanks so much for saying that. I too would have missed out on meeting so many wonderful people in my new creative writing world. I very much enjoyed meeting you at the conference a few years ago. All the best to you.

  4. And to you, as well, my friend.

  5. Madeline, Yes! I agree. Skill and craft will see us through. I spent most of my career writing anything moving: proposals, reports, job descriptions, curricula. What great training those years were as later I dug ever more deeply into my creative writing.Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience

    On Tue, May 10, 2016 at 4:00 AM, Telling HerStories: The Broad View wrote:

    > yemenijourney posted: ” by Madeline Sharples I worked as a writer/editor > and proposal manager in the aerospace business for a total of twenty-eight > years. I had a reputation for being a good writer so I got some of the plum > jobs – working on newsletters, websites, award a” > Respond to this post by replying above this line > New post on *Telling HerStories: The Broad View* > The > Journey from Aerospace Writer to Creative Writer R1 > by > yemenijourney > > > [image: big sur] > > *by Madeline Sharples* > > I worked as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business > for a total of twenty-eight years. I had a reputation for being a good > writer so I got some of the plum jobs – working on newsletters, websites, > award applications, and even ghostwriting letters for top managers, but the > writing style for any of those tasks was nothing near creative. > > However, I learned a lot about writing and revision while working on > deadline-oriented, and super stressful proposals. We wrote a little, we > edited, we reviewed, and then we revised. And we’d repeat that sequence > many times throughout a typical three-month proposal effort. I also taught > proposal teams how to write their text, emphasizing the importance of > keeping their fingers moving until the writing is finished, then stepping > away from their prose for a bit before editing it. I think that advice > works for all kinds of writers. If you don’t have another person’s eyes to > look at it and edit it for you, leave it be for a while, make yourself a > hard copy, take out a red pen, and move to another location in your house. > It will be like having a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work. > > All that is practical advice. But the actual difference in writing to > address technical requirements and writing a creative story or poem or > essay is harder to address. > > I think the main requirement – at least for me – is that I wanted to make > the transition. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I > studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high > school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in > journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I > transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its > own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for > a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace > industry. I got a positive response after one call and asked, “Do you ever > hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to > become a “real” writer. > > And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I > took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I > made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a > non-fiction book, *Blue Collar Women:* – a little less technical than my > work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I > could stand it no longer. > > I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, > California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings > about ever being ab

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s